Connect with us

History and Seerah

Lost city under Rub al-Khali (Empty Quarter)

Published

By Faraz Omar | Saudi Life (crossposted)

Sand and only sand for thousands of kilometers extending over four nations, Rub al-Khali or the Empty Quarter is the world’s largest sand desert. Uninhabited one may think but the Bedu tribes have survived on the edge since before recorded time.

Sand dunes reach as high as 250 meters, while billions of glittering stars light up its night sky – a feat hikers and campers, locals and expats, don’t like to miss. Formidable conditions – extremely high temperature and dry as a bone – have kept travelers and settlers far away.

To say this place was once luscious green, with lakes and ponds and springs, chirping birds, grazing deer, sleeping water buffaloes, and of course devouring humans would be an unaccepted blasphemy, a madman’s dream, and a creative myth. Yet it’s all true – facts are stranger than fiction.

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Much has been written about this Quarter by experts (references at the bottom). Archeologists and geologists have found remains of thousands of lakes (in two periods: between 37,000 and 17,000 years ago and between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago), fossils of cattle and hippos, and of flint tools including knives, scrapers, borers and arrowheads. The mission, the hard work, and the use of technology by scientists to uncover details have all been documented in chronology.

This piece is about the people who inhabited a part of the area. Who were they and what happened to them?

National Geographic reports: “In 1932 Bertram Thomas recorded Bedouin tales of a fabled trading city that disappeared beneath the sands of the Empty Quarter, beginning a love affair between Western explorers and the ancient city of Ubar. According to myth, Ubar was a sumptuously rich city, grown fat from the frankincense trade. Said to have been destroyed as punishment for its inhabitants’ impiety, the city remained elusive for centuries.”[1]

How much of a myth are these stories of Muslim Bedus?

Did you not see how your Lord dealt with Aad? Iram (the city) of the pillars, The like of which were not created in the land? (Qur’an, 89:6-8)

The people of Aad lived in an area between Yemen and Oman.[2] Iram “refers to the House of the kingdom of Aad” as mentioned by early scholars like Qatadah and As-Suddi. [3]

The Qur’an additionally says “of the pillars” because they lived in trellised houses that were raised with firm pillars.[4]

“Do you build high palaces on every high place, while you do not live in them? And do you get for yourselves palaces (fine buildings) as if you will live therein forever?” (Qur’an, 26:128-129)

The National Geographic article continues: “It wasn’t until 1992, after decades of fruitless exploration, that scientists finally made headway. Using space-based radar imagery, they detected ancient caravan tracks that converged near modern-day Shisr in southwest Oman. Their excavations uncovered a large octagonal fortress with thick walls standing ten feet (three meters) high, along with eight towers at its corners. Greek, Roman, and Syrian pottery shards discovered in the ruins – the oldest dating from 4,000 years ago – suggested the site was indeed an important trading center. The fact that the city seemed to have met with a rather cataclysmic end – much of it fell into a sinkhole created by the collapse of an underground limestone cavern – was compelling evidence to suggest that this was indeed the fabled city of Ubar.” [5]

The myth busted! The Qur’an is the most truthful and protected book known to mankind.

More evidence of Iram is found in the December 1978 edition of National Geographic magazine. In 1973, the city of Ebla was excavated in Syria. The city was discovered to be 4,300 years old. Researchers found in the library of Ebla a record of all of the cities with which Ebla had business ties. On the list was the specific name of the city of “Iram.” The people of Ebla had apparently conducted business with the people of “Iram.”

These fascinating details hint at yet another (among the infinite) proof of the divinity of the Qur’an. Presenting such historic, precise details of a people who lived thousands of years before the advent of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during a time void of academic research and technological advancement is not humanly possible.

Leaving aside these intriguing details, let’s come back to our original question: Who were these people? We must know that the Qur’an is not a book of history or science. It does have many signs for people to believe in it – historic, scientific, literary, etc – but its primary purpose is to guide humanity.

The story of Aad is one for our guidance. Aad were the strongest people of their time in their physical stature, and were the mightiest in power. But they were rebellious, arrogant, and disobedient tyrants. They worshiped false gods besides Allah. They abused the blessings and power they had, and they spread corruption on earth.

As for Aad, they were arrogant in the land without right, and they said: “Who is mightier than us in strength?” See they not that Allah Who created them was mightier in strength than them. And they used to deny Our verses! (Qur’an, 41:15)

As with every disbelieving nation in the past, Allah first sent a prophet to the people to remind them and call them back towards righteousness.

Aad denied the Messengers. When their brother Hud said to them: “Will you not fear Allâh and obey Him? Verily, I am a trustworthy Messenger to you. So fear Allâh, keep your duty to Him, and obey me. No reward do I ask of you for it; my reward is only from the Lord of the Universe. “Do you build high palaces on every high place, while you do not live in them? And do you get for yourselves palaces (fine buildings) as if you will live therein forever? “And when you seize (somebody), seize you (him) as tyrants? “So fear Allâh, keep your duty to Him, and obey me. And keep your duty to Him, fear Him Who has aided you with all (good things) that you know. He has aided you with cattle and children. And gardens and springs. Verily, I fear for you the torment of a Great Day.” They said: “It is the same to us whether you preach or be not of those who preach. This is no other than the false tales and religion of the ancients. And we are not going to be punished.” So they denied him, and We destroyed them. Verily, in this is indeed a sign, yet most of them are not believers. (Qur’an, 26:123-139)

How were they destroyed?

And as for Aad, – they were destroyed by a furious violent wind! Which Allâh imposed on them for seven nights and eight days in succession, so that you could see men lying overthrown (destroyed), as if they were hollow trunks of date palms! Do you see any remnants of them? (Qur’an, 69:6-8)

For seven nights and eight days continuously they were battered with a cold, violent wind. Was it a massive cyclone or a turbulent wind carrying tons of sand? We don’t know. Its magnitude and nature may not be known to us, but we know it was severe and it rooted out these people. Only Prophet Hud and the people of Aad who believed in him were saved. They migrated to Hadramout in Yemen and settled there.

The last verse is quite interesting: “Do you see any remnants of them?” Which means, as Ibn Kathir said, “Do you find any one of them left or anyone who even attributes himself to being from them?” This is the obvious meaning.

However, there’s one remarkable fact. Retired Aramco geologist Hal McClure, who in his 1984 doctoral thesis at London University reported in detail on the lakes, says there are no fossil remains of humans there. “Absolutely none” have been found at the lake, he said, though explorers have found flint tools, including knives, scrapers, borers and arrowheads.[6]

“Do you see any remnants of them?” The verse is absolutely right even if there were fossils because there are no people of Aad living today. But could it also mean they were destroyed without a trace left behind?

So next time when we’re out in the Empty Quarter, enjoying the sand dunes and the glittering night sky, let’s remember how it was once a trading center, with gardens and gushing springs, inhabited by a powerful and rich civilization, but who made life hell on earth and rebelled against God.

Let’s remember how an entire city lies buried beneath the sand we’re camping upon.


[1] National Geographic Magazine; link

[2] Ibn Kathir, Stories of the Qur’an

[3] Tafsir Ibn Kathir (abridged), English translation, vol. 10, p. 472, Darussalam

[4] Ibid., p. 471

[5] Op. Cit.

[6] Arthur Clark, Lakes of Rub al-Khali, pp. 28-33 of the May/June 1989 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Aboo Khalida

    June 4, 2010 at 12:47 AM

    Mashaa Allaah!
    Good to see you brother Faraz. Interesting read!! Jazaakallaahu Khair.

  2. umtalhah

    June 4, 2010 at 3:33 AM

    wow! shivers ran down my spine as i was reading it even though i had always believed in it w/o the ‘scientific proof’.

    jazakumAllahu khairan to all involved in brining this amazing piece to us.

  3. mubasshir

    June 4, 2010 at 4:06 AM

    a well researched piece..jazak ALLAH bro faraz

  4. Yusuf

    June 4, 2010 at 4:32 AM

    Ofcos for people to have a warning for eight days. they will all choose to leave than wait to be killed by dust. These were real historic events passed down generations just like the story of Atlantis which is now been located in Greece written by Plato 2,500 years a go. People used Atlantis as a morality tale just as you are doing now and in the Quran, but never thought it would one day be discovered.

    You can’t blame Allah or the people who were unfortunate enough to become victims of environmental catastrophe. We just have to accept the fact that our environment has time just like we do have certain time to live on earth.

    • suhail

      June 4, 2010 at 10:19 AM

      For your kind information there is Atlantis is still the same thing a fiction and not been found anywhere. So Plato tales are just that tales of fiction.

      Secondly Allah inform us in the Quran that he brought the punishment on these people for there actions and he sent them a messenger so that they can rectify there mistakes but they had become arrogant and tyranical.

      So the ones to be blamed were the people of that city whose actions were the cause of there demise.

      From you post it seems you do not believe in Allah or his signs. May be you should do more research before posting.

      • Yusuf

        June 4, 2010 at 1:46 PM

        “For your kind information there is Atlantis is still the same thing a fiction and not been found anywhere. So Plato tales are just that tales of fiction.”

        From your personal attack, I fear you might be the narcissist generation X. So here is a television programme presented by a sexy female to hep you start investigating for yourself:

        Atlantis: The Evidence
        http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qjlw

        If you can’t access BBC IPlayer, start googling Thera for resources or go to Crete the next time you have an opportunity to go on holiday.

        It would have been an advancement if people could write fiction or be imaginative in those days, but I am afraid matters were much simpler than that although they might have manipulated a little to suit their punters. Even our Quran has plenty of stories from Judaism and Christianity, but because we hardly read these “infidel” books. We all consider the Quran stories to be unique, when it is too far from the truth. Even the Haj rituals we do now were exactly the same as the ones Pagans use to do except minor changes, but nobody ofcos wants to listen to that.

        In fact having such catastrophe as the one that occurred in Atlantis only made matters and religious dogma worst as the people thought they were lacking the sacrifice of blood to their Gods, hence they began to slaughter each other more. Why would God disturb the peace and find comfort in spreading bestiality amongst the peaceful people, or what good will it do for the rest of humanity if such advanced people of the time were all wiped out?

        These stories are only good for getting people interested in Archaeology and science, but not good when they are abused to belittle past civilisations to self aggrandise one or another. When the Pharaoh civilisation died because desertification, certain people near the region abused what little they have heard of to accuse them of many crimes including forced slavery.

        • Sayf

          June 4, 2010 at 2:26 PM

          Even our Quran has plenty of stories from Judaism and Christianity, but because we hardly read these “infidel” books. We all consider the Quran stories to be unique, when it is too far from the truth.

          These are exactly the observations a Muslim would expect. Islam teaches us that all the Prophets (peace upon all of them) preached the same message from the same source and that differences occur primarily from human meddling with revelation. Further observations also confirm this because the dogmas that don’t follow with Islam happen to come from the most questionable historical sources (i.e. weaker biblical texts etc).

          Even the Haj rituals we do now were exactly the same as the ones Pagans use to do except minor changes, but nobody ofcos wants to listen to that.

          This bothers me a bit, weren’t you taught that the hajj rituals go back at least to Ibrahim alayhi salam?

          My friend, I ask you how much of Islam have you learned from Muslims? Doesn’t it seem wise to properly learn something from the right sources before you attack it?

    • Muadh Khan

      June 4, 2010 at 4:06 PM

      Do not disregard these tales, as merely fables or fiction, “asateerul awwaleen” but as history to be learned from.

      Also, everything is controlled by Allah, so there is no such thign as a coincedental environmental catastrophe.

      Atlantis, whether real or not, is irrelevant to the purposes of this discussion.

      And Muslims don’t deny that we share much in common with Judaism and Christianity. These were originally forms of Islam, in their own times, after all.

      • Amad

        June 4, 2010 at 4:58 PM

        I am not sure Yusuf is Muslim. Are you Yusuf?

        If not, then we don’t expect you to understand matters of faith. The words of this article reflecting the words of Qur’an mean a lot to those who have faith in divine revelation. It is obvious that you don’t, so why bother to troll, reeking with arrogance?

        • Muadh Khan

          June 4, 2010 at 5:41 PM

          I am Muadh. I cannot speak for Yusuf. But this discussion is getting pointless and will not get anywhere if Yusuf does not believe in the authority of the Sunnah, the definition of Sunni Muslim. I’ll leave off. Assalamu ‘alaykum.

      • Yusuf

        June 5, 2010 at 9:50 AM

        It is relevant because there was also no trace of Atlantis people as archaeologists are still digging to find bodies similar to those found in Pompeii. The main reason was as I said before and in the accounts that these people had many days to pack their families to a safer settlement. That is despite the catastrophe of Rub-Al-Khali being much less violent than that which met the people of Thera or Atlantis.

        I don’t understand why people sometimes feel the need to assure themselves of Allah’s existence by belittling past civilisations who died as Mujahids. We have to respect ourselves and heritage before we run to Allah since its his creation that you must appreciate first.

        I live near the city of Bradford in the UK which some white racialists make vile jokes including:
        Why do pigeons fly upside down over Bradford?
        Because there’s nothing worth sh*tt*ng on.

        The above goes to those peddling ideas to look away from such site or carrying scorn against such past settlement.

    • abu abdAllah Tariq Ahmed

      June 5, 2010 at 11:52 AM

      Ofcos for people to have a warning for eight days. they will all choose to leave

      No.

      Every nation that Allah destroyed for disobedience of a messenger was warned, and they specifically rejected the warner and his warning. It is precisely the rejection of the warning from Allah that was their downfall.

      Your comment does not even make sense in modern history: from Jews who collaborated with Hitler assuming his pogroms were not meant for them, to the residents of the American Gulf Coast who roll the dice with hurricanes tracked night and day.

      Man is ever deluded as to his own security in this world, but the greatest delusion, the one the tragedy of which cannot be averted at all, is to be deluded about Allah, about the Last Day, or about the Day of Judgment.

      • Yusuf

        June 5, 2010 at 2:42 PM

        “Every nation that Allah destroyed for disobedience ”

        People beleived the above even during Paganism, so I wouldn’t be proud to associate Islam with such past.

        I certainly would not ask you for your opinions of people currently facing hardship as you will probably tell them that they don’t pray or don’t roll up their trousers etc.

        • A R Abdul Razak

          June 6, 2010 at 7:11 AM

          Assalaamu-alaikum,

          Yusuf i think it is enough. Don’t bring more insult to such a great piece (masha Allah) i.e. the article.

          In fact, talking about belittling people from past, present and future; YOU’RE DOING IT RIGHT AT THIS INSTANCE.

          Practice what you preach.

      • someone

        June 6, 2010 at 12:59 PM

        On a random note
        your thoughts on human nature is very insightful

        Man is ever deluded as to his own security in this world, but the greatest delusion, the one the tragedy of which cannot be averted at all, is to be deluded about Allah, about the Last Day, or about the Day of Judgment.

  5. Shuaib Mansoori

    June 4, 2010 at 5:27 AM

    Assalamu Alaikum,

    Very informative article. JazakAllah Khair!

  6. suhail

    June 4, 2010 at 10:13 AM

    Actually such places are not for the anybody to visit. Remember when Prophet(SAW) passed through the place where Samud used to live on his expedition on Tabuk he covered his face and asked the sahabah to hasten from that place.

    Some of the Sahaba brought some water from there dwellings and Prophet(SAW) told not to drink from it.

  7. Yusuf

    June 4, 2010 at 2:00 PM

    “Actually such places are not for the anybody to visit.”

    The above is what I suspected this article was encouraging. Rather than respecting and preserving such heritage site, they want to deride the place as the place of Satan in the name of ignorance and attribute it to Islam as one already has come out with a hearsay account from a Bedouin some hundred years a go. Hearsay is not admissible in court, so why should anybody be a hostage to hearsay evidences narrated by X or Y?

    • waleed

      June 4, 2010 at 9:53 PM

      Don’t listen to this guy, he’s obviously just trying to play with our minds although all his arguments are pointless.

  8. Abu Ibrahim

    June 4, 2010 at 9:55 PM

    Jazakhallahu Khair.

    I love articles like this that merge modern science and discovery with the information we have from Quranic texts. People will take what they will from it, but this just further proves the truth of Allah’s Word.

    Is Islam Anti-Art?

    • Sally

      June 6, 2010 at 5:26 AM

      “I love articles like this that merge modern science and discovery with the information we have from Quranic texts.”

      Ditto!! Thanks for the informative read.

  9. Abd- Allah

    June 5, 2010 at 2:53 AM

    It was narrated from Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “The Hour will not begin until the land of the Arabs once again becomes meadows and rivers.” Narrated by Muslim (157).

    The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said that it will become again, indicating that this is how it used to in the past and it will become like that once again, meadows and rivers.

    Brother Suhail is right:

    The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) passed though al-Hijr – which was where the houses of Thamood were – he said: “Do not enter the dwellings of those who wronged themselves unless you are weeping, lest there befall you something like that which befell them.” Then he covered his head and urged his mount to move on quickly until he left the place behind.

    Narrated by al-Bukhaari (3200) and Muslim (2980).

    Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said, whilst listing the lessons and rulings learned from the campaign to Tabook:

    One who passes by the places of those who were subjected to divine wrath or who were punished should not enter them or stay among them, rather he should hasten to move on and should cover his head with his garment until he has passed them, and he should not enter upon them unless he is weeping and willing to learn a lesson. An example of this is when the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) hastened to move on in the valley of Muhsir, between Mina and Muzdalifah, because it was the place where Allaah destroyed the elephant and its companions.

    Zaad al-Ma’aad (3/560).

    Al-Haafiz Ibn Hajar (may Allaah have mercy on him) said, commenting on the hadeeth quoted above:

    This applies to the dwellings of Thamood and others like them, though the reason was given concerning them.

    Fath al-Baari (6/380).

    From islamqa

    • Yusuf

      June 5, 2010 at 9:54 AM

      Keeping people away from such sites was an early measures of security used to stop people from looting. The Pharaohs also left behind many stories about what will happen to anybody who entered burial sites and it worked for many thousand years to preserve the culture as we know witness in museums.

      So at least this hearsay has done its job for the time it was written and we shall move on from there.

      • Abd- Allah

        June 5, 2010 at 2:03 PM

        (… and when the ignorant address them, they say: “Peace.”) 25:63

  10. abu abdAllah Tariq Ahmed

    June 5, 2010 at 12:01 PM

    Amad, do the number of trolls increase when we post articles exposing Zionist/Israeli violence and atrocities?

  11. Faraz Omar

    June 5, 2010 at 12:49 PM

    Baarak Allahu feekum every1….

    The link to my name is broken. May be just the link to SL’s article would be enough? Jazaak Allah khair

    From where do you get these nincompoops like Yusuf? lol.

    There is no greater proof than the Qur’an. And I don’t know if he has bothered reading, and I don’t care if he has read or not, but the article clearly provides information on how scientists have found this for a fact… not heresay.

    Keep shouting all u want…i pity u for attempting to stand against the tide of truth. Multitudes of people are embracing Islam everywher alhamdulillah… all to your dissatisfaction and frustration :P

  12. Yus from the Nati

    June 5, 2010 at 4:05 PM

    جازاك الله خيرا

    Excellent article. I really enjoyed it, as well as a reminder of our reality in this dunya.

    Are there any pics that you can scan or links of the place? and these “pillars” and structures?

  13. Gurabah

    June 5, 2010 at 5:59 PM

    Salamu Alaykum,

    Baraka Allahu feek brother Faraz,

    MashALLAH!! great article. Very informative. For me it bring the nobility and the truthfullnes of the Quran to another Higer Level. Not that i need any proof from science but it just makes it that much more noble and pure. Alhamdulillah for being a muslimah. May Allah protect us from becoming like these people, Ameeen!!

    To Yusuf: You said that they had 8 days to prepare for the calamity of Allah, i think you don’t understand anything. in the Quran it says that the wind was hitting them for 7 nights and 8 days. The warnings passed already with the prophets. These stories are warnings for us now….. are you taking heed???

  14. Ehsaan

    June 5, 2010 at 7:19 PM

    Mashallah, very nice article.

  15. A R Abdul Razak

    June 6, 2010 at 7:16 AM

    GREAT PIECE!!!

    We need more of these to educate our youths.

    And not to mention neanderthals such as myself!

    Jazaakallah Khayr

  16. Shehryar

    June 10, 2010 at 1:07 PM

    This is ver informative article.Due to tis article we come to know that Quranic verses are truel divine and the words of Alla Almighty. Jazakallah.

  17. Pingback: TEENS: THE STORY OF AAD « Umm Muawiyah's Lecture notes (and Random Thoughts)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Trending